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On Socialization of Unschoolers

Written by
Angela Fitzgerald
Angela Fitzgerald

Angela is a homelearning mom in British Columbia. In addition to living and learning alongside her husband and two daughters, Angela has been supporting homelearning families as a Learning Consultant since 2004. Previously a public school teacher, having children of her own changed her perspective around optimal learning environments and relationships for children. With the birth of her first child in 1999, Angela began an intensive hands-on ‘training’ with a developing realization that all learning is relative to the development of peaceful and healthy human relations.

On Socialization

I want to offer some perspective on the topic of socialization. This tends to be the most common concern expressed by well-meaning folks as soon as the topic of home learning is raised in any shape or form. I have noticed it also comes up for many families new to home learning, with the assertion that their child is really needing more social contact with peers.

With further discussion, and more specifically further listening to what the child is really saying, I have typically found that the child’s request for more friend time is actually a manifestation of what he has been conditioned to think he should want, and a reflection of his sense that there’s something wrong with him if he’s not surrounded by a group of fifteen or so “close” (because who could actually maintain that many meaningful relationships?!) friends.

“A the child’s request for more friend time is actually a manifestation of what he has been conditioned to think he should want, and a reflection of his sense that there’s something wrong with him if he’s not surrounded by a group of fifteen or so 'close' friends.”

It works in the public school system’s favor to condition kids to think this way, because they need these kids to be able to manage in large groups of same-age peers. And it sounds better if we call these peers “friends,” when in fact they may be anything but. I have noticed that many kids actually really need a break from this cycle but they don’t know how to get off the treadmill without feeling like the ever dreaded “loser.” It’s hard for them to make the leap to realizing they can choose not to want to be around friends all the time, and still be a cool person.

A few years ago, we had my fifteen-year-old nephew come and live with us for a year. He had been living on the other side of the country and was making some poor choices and his parents were worrying. My husband was able to get him a job at the local ski hill and it came with a free snowboarding pass, which made the whole deal appealing to my nephew.

I agreed to facilitate my nephew’s "Distributed Learning" courses so he could stay on track with his graduation plans. When he arrived, we just let him settle into our family and find his place. His parents became concerned that he wasn’t getting enough “socialization” so I looked into the sports programs at the recreation center and at the local high schools. I shared with my nephew the various options available and offered to sign him up with any of the ones that interested him. He wasn’t interested in any, and seemed quite happy to just play with our young daughters and take the dogs for walks and go to the beach with our family. We shared with him his parents’ concerns and he explained, “I’m okay with just hangin’ out with you guys for a while if that’s okay.”

It seems he really needed a break from the social scene, but he didn’t know how to do it in his own town. It’s harder to drop out of peer pressure when it’s right down the street.

The “missing friends” factor is a very big part of the deschooling process. Most kids I know who have never been to school are quite happy seeing friends once or twice a week. And I’ve noticed that kids who are newly out of school feel like something’s wrong if they don’t see their friends every day. It takes them some time, often about a year, to become more comfortable with their own company, and the company of their family.

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